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Energy & Environment Forum

Trace Impressions of Being: Loss, Change, and Wonder in the Fuegian Archipelago

Thursday, Feb. 1 | 1:00 to 2:30 pm | Toyota Auditorium

Dr. Laura Ogden, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Dartmouth College



Traces of the modern world’s emergence can be found in the stratigraphy of the Earth.  These traces include radioactive residues from nuclear testing, layers of concrete and plastic, as well as the fertilizer-enriched soils and seas that now characterize much of the planet.  For environmental scientists, these petrochemical traces are evidence of the unprecedented impacts of industrial and capitalist economies on assemblages of life, most notably animal and plant extinctions and widespread patterns of ecological simplification. In this accounting (the “Anthropocene”), petrochemical traces signal presence and absence simultaneously. Yet, this way of understanding the relationship of presence to absence neglects other forms of profound loss equally foundational to the making of the modern world.  In this talk, I present a fuller accounting of “global environmental change” that incorporates traces of loss that includes humans. This paper stems from an ongoing ethnographic research project exploring loss and wonder in the Fuegian Archipelago. Anthropologists understand that losses associated with colonialism include losses of life, territory, and multispecies ways of being. The traces of these losses are less visible in the Earth’s strata, and instead can be found in other archives (oral history, colonial and postcolonial documents, archaeological evidence). Research for this project stems from a collaborative archival project conducted with representatives of the Yaghan indigenous community and the Martin Gusinde Anthropological Museum on Navarino Island, Chile.

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